It’s no secret that we, as a society, need to normalise the act of reaching out and seeking support for mental health concerns – particularly for our men.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s Causes of Death, Australia*, “suicide is the 10th leading cause of death for males” and “Male suicides make up three-quarters of all suicides.”.
The stigma that surrounds mental health may be one factor that deters some men (and women) from seeking help for concerns about their mental wellbeing.
The mental health of Aussie men needs to be at the forefront of everyday conversations so that we can put an end to the stigma surrounding mental health its devastating effects.
However, why is it that stigma surrounding mental health tends to impact men more than women?
What is stigma?
Stigma can be described as a negative mark or stain. It is when someone or something is viewed in a negative way because of a distinguishing characteristic or trait that's thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.
Mental health is surrounded by this stigma and this can lead to discrimination and hurt for those with perceived, assumed or diagnosed mental health conditions.
For example, stigma leads to discrimination when an individual makes a negative remark about another’s mental health, their approach to seeking treatment or the treatment itself.
This discrimination may be unintentional or subtle, such as a work colleague avoiding another colleague because it is assumed their mental health diagnosis suggests they’re unstable or dangerous.
In some instances, stigma around mental health can prevent individuals from knowing how to approach a friend, loved one or colleague with a mental illness or mental health concerns.
Ignorance, misunderstanding and negative attitudes can all result in stigma for people living with mental health concerns and diagnoses.
What are the most common examples of stigma surrounding mental health that deter us from getting support for their mental health?
- Worrying about reaching out for support in fear of appearing weak
- Questioning how a psychologist – technically a stranger – could possibly know what you’re going through, let alone help
- Worrying that speaking to a professional psychologist can be very expensive
- Thinking that psychology is only for people who have a mental health diagnosis
- The belief that psychology is inaccessible and not knowing where to start
Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs towards people who have a mental health condition are common. And studies have shown that stigma surrounding mental health tends to impact men, possibly more than women.
A recent study published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies**, using findings from Ten to Men: The Australian Longitudinal Study on Male Health, found the following alarming statistics when it comes to men seeking help for their mental health:
- Only a quarter of men said they would be likely or very likely to seek help from a mental health professional if they experienced an emotional or personal problem. Almost 25% said they would not seek help from anyone.
- Adult men said they would be least likely to seek help from a phone helpline, with around 80% indicating they would be very unlikely or unlikely to seek help from this source.
- Many Australian males were not accessing professional support. While over 80% of men with depression, anxiety and/or any suicidality in the past year had seen a General Practitioner, only around 40% had seen a mental health professional.
Why is it that stigma tends to deter men from getting help more so than women?
There are many reasons as to why stigma tends to deter men from getting help more so than women, but perhaps the most prevalent reason is the concept of toxic masculinity.
Toxic masculinity is a term for some of the harmful associations of “maleness” in our culture.
It doesn’t mean that masculinity is ‘bad’ or that it’s ‘bad to be a man’. It does mean, however, that some traits associated with masculinity in our culture are harmful or toxic for both men and women’s mental, physical, emotional and relationship health.
Toxic masculinity encapsulates the stereotype that men are expected to be stoic, fearless, strong, emotionless.
Too often, many men stay silent when they need help. There is the belief that reaching out renders them weak or a failure and this can be a huge factor in prohibiting men to reach out or seek help.
Some men may even fear being seen going into a psychology practice to seek help and this is where online psychology platforms, such as My Mirror, have been working hard to provide accessible, flexible and private online telehealth psychology sessions from the comfort of your home or your own device.
Unfortunately – like most societies – Australian society has traditionally dictated that men must only show their strengths and never outwardly express emotions because it is still perceived by many to be a sign of weakness, whether it be in the home, a workplace, or in a social setting.
How can you overcome the effects of stigma surrounding mental health in order to seek help?
Learn about what stigma (and especially toxic masculinity) is and how our culture reinforces it. Be open to what you’re reading. Do some research about psychology and find what your pricing options are. A general belief in society is that seeking help from a psychologist can be pricey.
However, with a Mental Health Care Plan help is accessible for less. .
Some online platforms, such as My Mirror, are working hard to provide affordable care options.
Work on yourself
Being self-reflective and honest about our emotions, thoughts and behaviours is hard, but it’s worth it. As you learn about the negative effects of toxic masculinity, reflect on how these may have affected your own life.
Be kind to yourself by eating healthily, getting enough sleep, and getting plenty of sunshine and exercise. Physical and mental health go hand in hand and exercise can be an incredible tool in reducing stress and overcoming the concerns of stigma.
Making mistakes are part of what makes us human. Being genuinely accountable is not only the right thing to do, it’s an important way to move forward. Take responsibility for your words and actions.
If you owe an apology to somebody you love, take the time to reach out and give it to them. Further to this, be accountable for your own thoughts, emotions and feelings and reach out for help when you need it.
Create a better community for yourself
Surrounding yourself with a strong support network is imperative to your mental health. Distancing yourself from any negative or harmful figures in your life will help create the community and environment you need to thrive. Take the time to find and create meaningful connections.
Start a conversation with a mate, partner or loved one about how you’re feeling
It can seem incredibly daunting at first, but it is true when they say that ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’.
You may want to strike up a conversation with something along the lines of, “I’ve been feeling a little down lately. Do you think I could share some thoughts with you?”.
No true friend or loved one will ever deny you of this and you might just find how liberating it can be. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from an experienced and registered psychologist that suits your needs.
* Australian Bureau of Statistic, Causes of Death, Australia, release date 12/10/2020, https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/health/causes-death/causes-death-australia/latest-release#intentional-self-harm-suicides-key-characteristics
**Terhaag. S, Quinn. B, Swami. N, Daraganova. G, Australian Institute of Family Studies, Mental Health of Australian Males: depression, suicidality and loneliness, September 2020, https://tentomen.org.au/research-findings/insights-report/mental-health?_ga=2.195881004.1402612768.1605520020-1543744653.1603775709